Becoming conscious of the factors which prevent us from living with balance, loving with abandon, and being sovereigns over our own authentic lives is our soul’s true destiny and the goal of inner work. But it takes a long time to understand this, and even longer to accomplish it.
Around the age of three children become aware of themselves as individuals. This marks the awakening of ego-consciousness. This stage is marked by growing self-awareness, but not Self-awareness, for, unfortunately, as the child leaves the comforting womb of the mother’s world it forgets about the intimate sense of connectedness to the All it experienced before then. Moreover, it hasn’t a clue how to return to it.
Think of a child’s psyche as a freshly laid chicken egg. Imagine the egg white as the ego which is closer to the shell (or persona: the social personality an ego creates to adapt to its flock), and the yolk as the Self, our unconscious spiritual core. In the natural life of a fertilized egg the white and yolk merge to create new life. When they are fully integrated and the chick is ready, it pecks at its constraining shell until it falls away. Only by becoming conscious of the wider world and daring to explore it can the baby chick attain its destiny of mature chickenhood.
The same process of integration is meant to happen in our psyche. But, unfortunately, most human eggs remain unfertilized, the ego stays separated from the Self, and the persona remains intact. In this stage of ego-consciousness we are living in the Kingdom of Eggdom. We believe ourselves to be fully conscious but are actually only conscious of what our egos think and want and feel. Everything we know and believe in the Kingdom of Eggdom is shaped by living in this egg in this nest in this coop with these chickens in this tiny barnyard.
Until our ego begins to integrate with the larger world of our psyche and we begin to individuate — by which Jung meant knowing the difference between our individual soul and our group’s soul and honoring our uniqueness with original choices — our life will be as constricted as an unborn chick trapped in a fragile egg and we will not achieve our potential or fulfill our destinies.
The fertilizer that kicks off our integration and individuation is the life crises without and within which make us uncomfortable enough to want to leave the Kingdom of Eggdom. Life might even administer a few cracks to our shells. But no one can make us step out of them. Only we, our ego selves, can choose to enter the wider Realm of Individuated and Integrated Chickenhood and become sovereign over our own lives.
Hmmm… do you suppose that’s why the chicken crossed the road?
For a delightfully humorous take on why the chicken crossed the road from the perspective of philosophers through the ages, click on the link below. I guarantee a laugh or two:
You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Superb concrete literal metaphor! Clearest explication of Individuation I’ve ever heard! Thank you—
The Taoist immortalists say that we are the chick within the shell. We must make the choice to voluntarily leave. But once we begin pecking from within, the mother hen hears and comes to help by pecking from the outside. By this they hint at the leap of consciousness we make when we trust that The One is intimately concerned with our voluntary return to It.
Or another way to say it might be: The highest expression of free will is to voluntarily surrender it to The One Will.
It is as if we could only experience the oneness of all life by leaving the earth in a space ship and looking back on it from a great distance…..
It is such a paradox, Individuation. Its goal, I think, is never to become an individual but, rather, to give a new and unique and unforeseen expression to The Whole.
Enough rambling! I’m off to read about philosophical chickens crossing philosophical roads philosophically.
Thanx for another illuminating and thought-provoking article!!
Thank you for your kind words, William.
I love it that the Taoists use the same metaphor for individuation. It must be pretty universal. Although my Michigan grandparents raised chickens, I had no idea the mother hen helps by pecking from the outside! That’s so beautiful! Like the mother bear who abandons her cub when the time is right so it will become independent. The good mother not only protects but also liberates.
And yes, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that individuating is not ultimately about separating ourselves from otherness but about contributing more awareness to, and merging with, the Universal Sphere of Communion you describe in your brilliant Huffington Post article about your near-death experience. Thanks again for that. I’ve included the link here for those who might be interested and highly recommend it.
Regarding this from your reply: “individuating is not ultimately about separating ourselves from otherness but about contributing more awareness to, and merging with, the Universal Sphere of Communion”
Yes, you read me right. I had the privilege of corresponding with Marie-Louise von Franz back in the 70s (before email: gasp!). She was kind enough to comment on some ideas I was working on at the time. Very professorially, she corrected my missteps in logic. This point, however, where I treated the Collective Unconscious as the limitlessly growing awareness being added to by the individuation of each Individual Consciousness, this point was the only one to receive a big emphatic “Yes!” in bright red……
What an honor it must have been to correspond with Marie-Louise von Franz! She’s one of my favorite writer-mentors. The idea of the Collective Unconscious as limitlessly growing awareness is new to me but it makes perfect sense! I add my emphatic “Yes!” to hers. Thank you for that.
Dear Jean Raffa….just a quick spontaneous question, being a mother of a 4 year old….is it possible to support/nourish that individuation in this age? and if yes, how?….Thanks C.
Yes, and it’s never too soon to start. Help him/her cultivate his/her interests and enthusiasms; help him recognize his emotions and feelings and let him know it’s okay to feel what she feels; help him/her express his/her honest feelings in appropriate ways; help her see what she’s good at; treasure his differences from other children. The idea is to help her acquire self-knowledge and emotional maturity without squelching her own passions and feelings. Best of luck, Jeanie